Friday, July 30, 2010

Circumcision to fight HIV misses point in Africa

In my African society we are bashful about HIV/AIDS and at funerals, mourners never openly reveal what killed men of honour. There will be muffled whispers and death certificates safely identify the cause of death as ‘pneumonia’ rather than ‘AIDS.’

I am from Sub-Sahara Africa which was heavily influenced by the Church Missionary Society and White Fathers. With such Christian influence, while growing up we knew that AIDS is a divine punishment for man’s sensual indulgences. The solution to HIV prevention was in the 10 commandments and fidelity.

This same solution of fidelity was carried by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who emphasised the popular ‘zero-grazing.’ This is an indigenous metaphor where a herbivore tethered on a rope feeds on only the pasture within its reach. That meant that a man would remain faithful to his wife.

Since then HIV prevention campaigns have included the male condom. But even still, there has been a rise in infections. Now, the most recent HIV prevention innovation is circumcision which was found to limit the spread of the virus by more than a half in men.

At the International AIDS Conference in Vienna 2010 it was revealed that 38 million circumcisions will be performed on men and boys in the next 5 years to halt HIV/AIDS spread in East and Southern Africa.

Africa may well be on its way to setting a world record of the highest number of surgical procedures. But will circumcision address the HIV problem?

In Uganda , we previously viewed male circumcision as a religious rite for the Mohammedans. Also, it is a biennial cultural rite marked by drums and dance for the mountain communities of Eastern Uganda , where boys face the knife without anaesthesia to prove their bravery and virility.

A continent with the world’s highest AIDS burden, Africa could be easily be likened to a huge laboratory for medical researchers and their sponsors to prove their guesses. In Africa , we have discussed different ways to deal with HIV prevention. At the height of the epidemic, frantic politicians suggested the radical proposal to quarantine people living with HIV/AIDS in camps.

Male circumcision is the latest finding yet studies show that it does not reduce the transmission of the HIV virus from men to their female sex partners. Heterosexual relationships are the biggest driver of HIV infections in Africa . In Uganda , there is a surge in HIV among married people. To emphasise the male ‘cut’ is to ignore women in such marriages. The disempowered African woman cannot negotiate for safe sex in an unfaithful marriage.

I think to promote male circumcision is to blame the foreskin rather than men’s souls – the core of which prompts them to have multiple partners. The circumcision drive is only a proof that we have failed to promote fidelity which remains the cheapest and most cost-effective HIV prevention method. Don’t bring me your surgical blade.

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